I occasionally come across someone who wants to make a movie but has never done it. Here’s my advice.
- Know your goals. People can have many goals, but I’ve seen the following two.
- You want to make the best movie you can. So you need to recruit the best filmmaking team that you can. I have a friend who did this on her first film. She wrote, directed, and starred in “Face Them.” It came out great. It’s been successful on the festival circuit and can now be seen on Amazon Prime here. She did it by recruiting a skilled and experienced team including a cinematographer, editor, sound guy, and assistant director (which, in this case, was me). She made a great movie and learned a lot about producing and directing, but she didn’t master the filmmaking crafts herself.
- You want to learn the filmmaking crafts. So you probably want to do a lot of the work yourself. I did that with my first film, “Shutdown.” I had a crew of three, including myself, and I did most of the technical jobs. It is nowhere near as technically proficient as “Face Them.” But oh boy, did I learn!
- Make a story that’s easy to film. For my first film, I wrote a script with two actors that could be shot in my kitchen in one day. Getting that done was challenging enough. No way could I have handled something more complicated. Complicated means a big cast, multiple locations, a long film, or special requirements like special effects or fancy makeup (unless you are certain that you have someone who can produce those).
- Don’t worry about the quality of the camera. “Tangerine,” a Sundance success and indie darling, was shot on an iPhone. Steven Soderbergh is shooting his next film on an iPhone. You don’t need a fancy camera (though a fancy camera can do things that an iPhone cannot).
- Do worry about the sound. It didn’t get much press, but the sound kit they used to make “Tangerine” was worth several thousand dollars, much more than the iPhones they shot on. You can scrimp on visuals, but don’t scrimp on sound. There’s been studies that prove this. Make sure you have good sound equipment and someone who knows how to use it . Or make a silent film.
- You need a reliable editor. It’s fairly easy to get friends to come out for shooting day to help work on your film. Getting someone reliable to edit the film is harder. It’s a longer commitment, and a lot of editors flake when they realize what they’ve gotten into. I’ll help friends make movies, but I generally only edit my own films – I learned that one the hard way. If you do your own editing, you’ve got a leg up here. But it will almost certainly take longer than you expect.
- Want to direct? Great – it’s tons of fun. But let me tell you what the job of director is. You have to do two things. If you can’t or don’t want to do those things, don’t direct. You’ll hate it, your cast and crew will hate working on your movie. Ready? Here’s what you have to do as director:
- Clearly explain to the other people working on the film what your vision is. You don’t have to know the technical stuff, but you have to know what you want. And you have to explain it to others.
- Make decisions. Lots of decisions. You’re the court of last resort on the film set. Not decisive? Don’t be a director.
- Perhaps most important: no one else will care as much about your film as you will, so if you don’t care enough, it’s not going to happen. Sometimes when I’m working on a film it feels like I’m rolling a rock up a hill. It’s going to take a lot of pushing, so make sure you care enough to push.
- And related to that, get ready for rejection. If you’re lucky, some people will love your film. But whether you’re lucky or not, someone will hate it. That’s the life of an artist: you pour your heart and soul into your work and send it off into the world to get rejected. Stephen Spielberg, the most successful director in the history of the medium, a genius at visual story-telling, still gets bad reviews.
- What to do with the film is its own question, with its own challenges. That’s beyond the scope of this post.
Good luck! And drop me a note when you’re done and share the film!